It was a new experience in many ways: LEAP Ambassadors attended their first light opera, they met many LEAP Alumni, and they spent an evening enjoying good company. The occasion was the summer performance from The Gilbert & Society of Houston, and with all of their performances sold out, it was a minor miracle that we were able to purchase 23 tickets to the third showing of “HMS Pinafore.”
For those who haven’t seen a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta before, it’s worth a summer jaunt to the beautiful Hobby Center to see a performance. HMS Pinafore was written in 1878, but its satirical edge and comedy rang true 144 years later. The opera tells the story of three sets of star-crossed lovers, with each pair being thwarted in their loving ambitions by the British class system. This leads to much shiply shenanigans: an attempted suicide, mystic omens, an aborted midnight elopement, and a dungeon jailing–all chorused by a crew of “sisters, cousins, and aunts.”
We had different favorites, but there was a general consensus that the cast outdid themselves with “Never Mind the Whys and Wherefores,” in which the production deviated sharply from the libretto. The orchestra got involved in the hijinks, Admiral Joseph (played by Alistair Donkins) engaged in much madcap, and Josephine made the most of her many encores. Donkins, who for the past forty years has flown in from England to perform with the Houston Gilbert & Sullivan cast, is retiring. We wondered whether these scenes were written specifically as a scene-stealing sendoff to the most reliable of the performers.
Neither of the Ambassadors had seen an opera, even a “light opera,” and several of the former Ambassadors had also never seen such a performance. Their novice status, however, didn’t prevent them from posing like pros after the production–and, in fact, one pro did pose with us!
The fists-up pose derives from the lyric to “A British Tar.” A “tar” is a nickname for a sailor, possibly as an abbreviation of tarpaulin, and the song–one of two patriotic tunes from HMS Pinafore–celebrates the stoutness of a British sailor:
A British tar is a soaring soul,
As free as a mountain bird,
His energetic fist should be ready to resist
A dictatorial word.
His nose should pant,
And his lip should curl,
His cheeks should flame,
And his brow should furl,
His bosom should heave,
And his heart should glow,
And his fist be ever ready for a knock-down blow.
Other than the playful fists, the tone of the evening was one of amicability. Bryan Phillips, who was involved in LEAP from 2010-2012, was the most senior former student. Bianca Saldierna (2017-2018), Staci Antu (2017-18), Esme Mata (2019-20), Quinn Kobrin (2019-2021) joined the current LEAP Ambassadors, providing insight and catching everyone up on their impressive accomplishments post-graduation.
Dr. Bill Hyman and his wife, Carol, were there, too. Maggie Padilla and her husband, Roman (who somewhat resembled the Captain of Pinafore) attended. And Jean Loveall, Program Coordinator for LEAP, also joined us. Of course, Stephanie and our advisor, Professor Mike Yawn, were there. Yawn is an excellent advisor to the organization: “Bad language or abuses / He never, never uses.“
Well, hardly ever.
We had the chance to meet these wonderful folks over dinner at Black Walnut, where the casual atmosphere provided the perfect place to talk–as well as good food!
Professor’s/Editor’s Note: Many thanks to the former LEAP Ambassadors who attended. Their ongoing willingness to meet with current students and provide mentorship is a huge part of the LEAP program. Also, special thanks to Bill and Carol Hyman and Roman and Maggie Padilla whose presence made the evening even more enjoyable.